April 6, 2012

Green Wave evens series

After losing its Conference USA opener at Memphis last week, Tulane never trailed in the next two games.

The Green Wave (21-9, 3-2 Conference USA) is halfway there against Rice (22-11, 5-3).

Nick Schneeberger homered in the first, Brennan Middleton hit a two-RBI double off third base in the second and D.J. Ponder pitched 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief as Tulane evened the series with a 7-2 win on Friday night at Turchin Stadium.

"You're here to win a series every weekend," Schneeberger said. "If you can sweep somebody that's great, but you want to win the series, especially against a quality team like Rice and a quality team like Memphis. "We've become a lot tougher throughout the season. Toughness was something we were lacking earlier, and we're starting to develop that."

Tulane (21-9, 3-2 Conference USA) lost the first game of four league series last year and did not win any of them. The Wave will try to go two-for-two in that category on Saturday afternoon when Kyle McKenzie, who pitched 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the clincher at Memphis, returns to the starting rotation.

"We played a pretty complete game tonight," Tulane coach Rick Jones said.

Schneeberger and Ponder are putting in complete years.

Schneeberger drilled a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall with two outs in the first, giving Tulane the lead for good. He followed with an RBI single in the fifth and a bases-loaded walk in the eighth - the fourth free pass issued by Rice in the inning - as the Wave tacked on three runs to seal the victory.

Schneeberger raised his batting average to .409, the best among Tulane regulars, and passed Garrett Cannizaro for the team's RBI lead with 31. His four homers are double his output of a year ago.

"I saw two fast balls in a row," Schneeberger said of his home run. "I was able to put a good swing on the second one."

Rice coach Wayne Graham did not let him swing the bat in the seventh, ordering an intentional walk after Cannizaro sacrificed Brandon Boudreaux to second.

Ponder lowered his earned run average to a microscopic 0.66, earning his fourth save after relieving David Napoli (5-1) with a 4-2 lead and runners on first and third with two outs in the sixth. He got pinch hitter Ryan Lewis to fly out to right, then blanked the ninth-ranked Owls the rest of the way despite yielding four hits and striking out only one.

"I didn't feel great out there tonight, I'll be honest with you," Ponder said. "I found a way to manage it, make a few pitches here and there and get out of it."

The four hits matched the total Ponder had allowed all year. The zero runs equaled his number in nine of his first 11 appearances.

"He has kept his fastball down in the zone and added a plus breaking ball that he can throw for a strike or bury when he needs to," Jones said. "He has been around here a long time, is a veteran guy and is very competitive."

The Wave won comfortably despite getting outhit 13-9. The difference was the eight walks Rice allowed (two intentional) to Tulane's two, clutch pitching and a nearly flawless night in the field. When Michael Aquino tried to stretch a leadoff double into a triple in the top of the third, Schneeberger and Middleton completed a perfect relay to gun him down at third.

Tulane, which has not won a series from Rice since the Owls joined Conference USA in 2006, will try to end that negative stat on Saturday. The game will start at 1 p.m.

"The one thing I don't want our guys to do is get too down or too up; we talk about that all the time," Jones said. "We played well last night, lost a one run ball game, we played well tonight and stretch the lead late. It is one win in a series and we need to sleep fast and be ready to play tomorrow."

Diamond notes

Tulane's bullpen has an ERA of 2:03 for the season. … Cannizaro's 12-game hitting streak ended. … Both of Tulane's doubles - Middleton's and one by Troy McCartney - hit third base on their way to the outfield. … Tulane was outhit and had more errors (1-0) for the second consecutive time in a win. … Schneeberger had nine putouts, an incredibly high number for a rightfielder.

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